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Singer Sarah Brightman May Be Russia’s Next Space Tourist

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Way back in 2001, Russia found out the best way to irritate management at NASA was to sell seats aboard their Soyuz spacecraft and let tourists float around on the International Space Station. Since that time, only seven space tourists have gotten the chance to see what the interior of a $100 billion dollar space station smells like. That number may now get a bump to eight with the help of British soprano and actress Sarah Brightman.

Today Reuters reported that an unnamed source inside the Russian space industry has said that Brightman will be the next tourist to make the journey to the ISS, sometime during 2015. This will make the 52-year-old star of The Phantom of the Opera and…ugh…Repo the Genetic Opera the first space tourist to make the trip since 2009. This won’t be Brightman’s first brush with the space tourism industry, as she partnered with Virgin Galactic to start the Brightman STEM scholarship program. The program will help women in the U.S. pursue their education in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) throughout a four-year college term. I guess this means she decided she wouldn’t be satisfied with the short little suborbital hop that Virgin Galactic could provide.

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Mysterious Geological Structure Photographed From The ISS

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There’s something strange lurking in the depths of the Sahara desert. Dubbed the Richat structure (or the far-cooler nickname, “The Eye of the Sahara”), the circular structure is massive, with a diameter of 40 km. Since most of us will never get the chance to fly over the top of the sucker, check out this gorgeous shot of the Richat structure, photographed by Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers from the ISS this past March.

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California Governor Declares Today Space Day

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Space is big news over the last couple of years. Virgin Galactic is on the cusp of offering up “affordable” space tourist flights, SpaceX became the first commercial company to dock with the international space station, and most recently NASA JPL proved that we could land space probes the size of small cars on another planet. Now the governor of California has decided to celebrate mankind’s achievements in space by declaring August 22 “Space Day”. If you don’t live in Cali, then don’t worry, we’ll let you celebrate too.

It may sound like one of those weird things that gets declared on the internet, but believe it or not yesterday California Gov. Ed Brown issued an official proclamation naming today the day to declare California’s love of spacey goodness. This is not quite as unwarranted as it sounds at first. California Is home to 3 NASA centers, more than any other state in the U.S. On top of that, it’s also home to several private space companies, most notably SpaceX, Scaled Composites, Masten Space Systems and Xcor Aerospace. Add that all together with the Mojave Air and Space Port and you pretty much can’t get a much spaceier state than California, even if they don’t launch space shuttles. Here is Gov. Brown’s official proclamation…

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Yo-Yos Are More Fun In Space

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Pretty much everything is better when you add “in space” to it. It’s like the old “in my pants” game, except, you know, you’re in space and probably not a junior high boy. In a video recently posted to YouTube, astronaut Don Pettit demonstrated that yo-yos are definitely no exception to the “in space” rule. Thanks to the microgravity environment aboard the International Space Station, Pettit has managed to make yo-yoing at least 300% more awesome than it has ever been down here on the surface. Let ‘er rip, Don…

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This Is How The World Ends: Astronomers Spot An Aging Star Devouring A Planet

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Five billion years from now, after our sun exhausts its nuclear fuel and starts to expand into a red giant, it will swallow our planet whole on its way to becoming a white dwarf. This process has been a long-accepted model of a solar system’s life cycle but has never actually been confirmed by observation. Now astronomers believe they have caught a red giant in the act of eating one of its planets, giving us a unique insight into the fate of planet Earth for the first time.

According to BBC News, a multi-national team made the discovery while observing the red giant BD+48 740 with the Hobby Eberly telescope in Texas. To catch a star in the act of eating its own planets is no small feat, as the process happens relatively quickly in cosmic terms, but the team managed to infer it from a couple of tell-tale signs. Spectroscopic analysis of the star’s composition revealed that it had an extraordinarily high amount of Lithium, a suspiciously rare element in the universe that is the subject of its own ongoing scientific investigations. Stars tend to destroy Lithium pretty easily, so having a lot of it in a red giant sent up flags immediately. According to one of the team’s members, Alexander Wolszczan of Penn State:

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Enter The Phoenix: This Massive Galaxy Cluster Is A Record Breaker

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The Chandra X-ray Observatory finds one for the cosmic record books. Located 5.7 billion light years from Earth, the Phoenix cluster may not only be the most massive galaxy cluster ever discovered, but also holds the record in several other categories as well. The galaxy cluster was originally named for the constellation it resides in, but now it’s looking like it was more aptly named than astronomers first thought.

While the “most massive” title still remains up for debate with a mass 2,000 times that of our own Milky Way, the Phoenix cluster sports the brightest emissions of X-rays of any galaxy cluster yet discovered. Not only is it an X-ray powerhouse, but the incredible amount of X-rays it is producing points to it being the fastest cooling galaxy cluster yet discovered as well. As reported by the Huffington Post, it is believed that the cooling of hot gas can produce large amounts of X-ray radiation.

This all leads to the next big record for the Phoenix cluster, star formation. The rapidly cooling gas points to an environment ripe for star formation. In an amazing twist, the central galaxy of the Phoenix cluster is pumping out about 740 new stars a year. In most galaxy clusters, the central galaxy is the oldest by billions of years and as such, produces fewer stars, normally at a rate of about one a year.  This means that what was once a dead old galaxy has amazingly sprung back to life and is forming stars like it is young again, just like the cluster’s namesake. Astronomers hope that they can find similar systems that could help them figure out the cooling process of galaxy clusters in general, but so far the Phoenix remains unique.